(Rogers abuses Abongo Humphrey. Photo by Tom Casino/Showtime.)
The first in a three-part series.
Before Brett Rogers was a 6’5”, 265-pound fighter, he was a heavy-set kid growing up in Chicago at the time of Air Jordan’s and 8-ball jackets. Growing up between Chicago’s south and west sides during the height of the crack-cocaine epidemic in the late 80’s and early 90’s, Rogers says he was headed for trouble. He wasn’t in a gang but his size made him a target for both recruiting and ridicule.
The 28-year-old lived just four blocks from his school, “but four blocks turned into ten blocks because you had to take certain turns, certain streets you couldn’t walk on just because you weren’t from that street or that block,” said Rogers.
“The Grim” remembers coming to the aid of his younger brothers, who were being bullied by other kids. “It just kinda broke out into a fight,” said Rogers matter-of-factly. “I’m the type that if I can’t win it with my hands, I’m gonna pick something up and bust you upside the damn head…To this day, I don’t know what happened and there was a lot of blood involved and I just didn’t care.”
It was survival of the fittest in Rogers’ neighborhoods, which for a time included the notorious Cabrini Green public housing project. But when Rogers was 12 years old his grandmother threw him a lifeline and invited him to live with her in Minnesota.
“Baby, you wanna come with me?” she asked.
“You know what? Yeah,” Rogers responded.
“The way she sat and explained it,” said Rogers, “A better place sounded like heaven.” His mother never drove – she still doesn’t, to this day – so Rogers’ world extended only ten blocks in each direction as a child. Moving north was “a lot…different,” said Rogers, in part because he was now surrounded by white people, who he’d had limited contact with before.
Minnesota has its street life just like any major city, but away from the gang-war ravaged streets of Chicago, Rogers was able to have a normal life, playing football and basketball in high school. In junior college, his competitive nature pushed him into tae kwon do. Tough man events followed and after approximately 15 bouts he switched to mixed martial arts because he liked the options.
Rogers’ ability to take advantage of his options got him out of Chicago and it’s brought him right back, albeit under much different circumstances. And the toughness he developed before he left will be crucial to his success when he returns to face Fedor Emelianenko on Nov. 7. “To this day, you ain’t gonna punk me around or try to boss me or whatever it is,” said Rogers. “I’m the pack leader on my own. I’m not a push over. Trust me.”